Sunday, September 22, 2013


The food here is frightening and inspiring. One of the first things that I learned in Indonesian was "Ada makanan vegetarian?" (is there vegetarian food?). Most of the time I am told that there is nothing, but when there is, I order it. It is an adventure each time. Indonesians like food that is either so sweet that you soon begin to sweat sugar from your pores or so spicy that you find yourself briefly praying for death to end the pain. I have spent time in Mexico and Thailand, so I am no stranger to spicy food, but here I find myself looking around for a cooler full of icy water in which to submerge my blistering lips on a fairly regular basis.
Takeout (they use paper, not boxes) from our favorite vegan place
The next thing that I learned to say regarding food was "sedikit pedas" (a little spicy) which is still alarmingly hot.
$1 Japanese food at the mall
Food here is ridiculously inexpensive... I have mixed feelings about this.Knowing the poverty that pervades the agricultural landscape outside of this city, I wonder how farmers can survive when I am paying less than a dollar a pound for the most important staple. This price also reflects price manipulation by middlemen and vendors. On the other hand, I am mainly eating where Indonesians eat, and Indonesian city dwellers are not rich either. Affordable food is essential. So, I eat cheaply too.

This is what $10 (total) buys you at a warung... Fed 6 hungry ladies
I eat at "warungs". These are tiny restaurants that have a very limited menu and food is cheap. Most warung owners cook a bunch of things in the early part of the day and serve it from a display window until it is gone. Most warungs specialize in a particular kind of dish. One of my favorite places serves lotek and gado-gado (variations of steamed vegetables and peanut sauce). The entire menu of the place is lotek w/or without rice, gado-gado w/or w/out rice and lotek with sauce on the side.Generally, my meals consist of vegetables of some sort, rice and tempe or tofu.This is the land of tempeh, and there was a nationwide panic recently when tempeh producers went on strike.

Then there are the odd things.
They serve fish finger pizza at Pizza Hut too
Rice is such an essential part of a meal that, when you go to a "warung", they ask you "pakai apa". "Pakai apa?" means "with what?", and they are asking what you want with your rice... not the other way around. If you don't have rice with your meal, Indonesians don't consider it a meal. Bahasa Indonesia has a lot of works for rice. It is one thing when it is cooked, another when it is raw, another after it is harvested, another while it is still on the plant. I find it fascinating that the language reflects the central place of rice in this culture.

Then there are the special meals out. We eat out a lot because grocery stores are few and far between. The traditional markets, where one would buy vegetables and staples are open at hours that don't work well with my schedule. So, there are lots of fun outings. Occasionally, we splurge on western food or other ethnic food. An extravagant meal runs about $10 per person.

One night was pizza and beer...

A NOTE ABOUT BEER. As many of you know, beer is one of my favorite things. However, this is a Muslim country where drinking is not common. When a restaurant does have beer, it is about as expensive as it is in Fort Collins. I have had a total of 3 beers since I got here. The locals drink kombucha or "tape" (fermented taro root, dyed green and served in soda water. Yes, it tastes just as good as you would think it would) to get a buzz.

So, eating has been a central component of my life in Yogya. While it is a biological necessity, it is also frequently a bonding experience. I am leaving Yogya tomorrow and I will miss laughter-filled meals with my friends here. However, I have a few pounds to shed and I hope that I will be able to do that in Kalimantan as I explore the rainforest. Stay tuned!

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